The Crazy Ones

Is 11.11 really the biggest sale of the year?

By Truss Tan

Who’d thought that innocuous quadruple one, split in the middle by a period, can be such a big deal, and date. Yes, the symmetrical numbers are appealing, lined up in a neat row, like rubber trees in a plantation. But people don’t know them as “ones”. These are not simply a repetition of the lowest cardinal number, deemed lucky in numerology. As K-actor Lee Min Ho (now with more than 20 million followers on Facebook and Instagram) said in the Lazada ad, “eleven eleven” (I did not, at first, understand what he uttered). Or as they say in China, “shuang shiyi (双十一, or double eleven)”, the massive, 24-hour retail event that is so huge, a tally room is set up to track the sales and the millions made, by the second!

Like so many shopping phenomena, these days, much of them are emerging from China. Originally known as Single’s Day (光棍节, guang gun jie), 11.11 has gone beyond the celebration of singlehood and not be ashamed of going without a romantic partner to become a gargantuan and unfettered consumerist indulgence—so massive in scale, it’s often acknowledged as the largest online and offline shopping festival in the world! And Americans thought Black Friday is huge. Last year, in China alone, they chalked up a record-breaking (again) USD38 billion in sales! If that is not staggering, I don’t know what is. As I write this, I have not been fed this year’s numbers, expected to break records again since spending is predicted to be high, considering people have accrued a lot from not travelling overseas.

Lee Min Ho for Lazada. Photo: Lazada

As the popular telling goes, in 1993, four unattached, unnamed dudes from Nanjing University (南京大学), probably bored to death, was wondering how to mitigate the “monotony” of not having a romantic mate. An idea came to these guang guns—“bare sticks”, the slang word Netizen used for single men. They thought it would be a good time to organise fun activities (nothing to do with shopping) to occupy similarly single campus mates, and they did, which apparently became popular among the co-ed population of the school. Phallic symbolism aside, 11.11 was also meant to be a stand to show that men do not need romance to validate their masculinity. It was, therefore, also known as “anti-Valentine’s Day”.

But no good idea can escape the grip of some greedy entrepreneurs, especially those in tech, sitting behind their laptops, watching the world, all agog for action. In 2009, Alibaba, through the manic site Taobao, create the 11.11 that we know today. Who cares about the singles now or the increasing number of them, left on the shelf, when you can, instead, see the item(s) you have been lusting after fly off the shelf. In fact, 11.11 is now a veritable cultural event, with celebrity attendance. In 2018, Mariah Carey kicked-started the festival with a performance backed by the Cirque de Soleil. Last year, Taylor Swift plugged the buying frenzy with a splashy performance. In the past years, we, too, have caught up. As Alibaba has a sizeable investment in Lazada, 11.11 has gripped the imagination and aroused the appetites of shoppers here.

Club 21 sleek landing page. Screen grab: sg.club21global.com

I am not easily afflicted by any shopping fever. In the past years, 11.11 came and went, and I have not been disadvantaged by it. But when Club 21, this year, persistently appear on my social media accounts with their beckoning, I was seduced into experiencing 11.11, at least once. Now, atas Club 21 was never known to play by the typical sale-schedule rule book. In the past, they would not even participate in the now significantly less great Great Singapore Sale (which was “forced” to go online due to the pandemic). Yet, here they were, notifying me on FB and IG incessantly that there were, at first, two more days to go before 11.11 (shown in bold, patterned type), and then, there was a day more. The urgency it created and the possibility that FOMO may strike finally aroused my curiosity about Eleven Eleven.

The Club 21 e-shop is still one of the most unfriendly to navigate despite a supposed remake last year. They are, to be sure, not Qoo10; they are a lot more classy, for a lack of a better expression. But they are not what you would call engaging (the buzz word in e-commerce these 11.11-aware days) or experiential. A journalist friend had texted me yesterday to ask if “get your favourite items for the price of one” (according to the Club 21 ads) meant “two items for 50%”. The answer is not immediately available on the Club 21 homepage (I assume I’d have to “see ‘promotions’ for T&C”, which, despite the pointer symbol appearing when I hover over the line, wasn’t clickable).

Anyway, I was not really here to spend (at least not at twenty past midnight); I wanted to see how our island’s premier multi-label store is adapting to 11.11, or adopting it. Regrettably, it was a totally anti-climatic session. Once you click on ‘shop now’ on the main page, it’ll bring you to the products page. No fanfare. A click on any item did not immediately bring me to the merchandise. It took an unusually lengthy 11.25 seconds. In fact, my entire 30-minute browsing was characterised by very annoying lag. And especially curious was items listed under the ‘Sale’ tab: they were not discounted! And when I clicked on the back arrow, the page hanged!

Singaporean actors Wang Weiliang (王伟良) and Gurmit Singh, peddle for Shopee

Might it be better at Lazada, heavily advertise on TV this past week, featuring the hard-to-comprehend Lee Min Ho? The sheer number of items offered by Lazada, on the homepage alone, often makes me nervous. Where do I begin? And there are those coupons preceding the listing of products. I saw an inordinate amounts of coffee machines, kitchen storage, and electric fans! I tried a search: fashion. The first item that appeared was a “2020 Autumn Clothing New Style Hong Kong Flavor Chic Versitile (sic) Fashion Vintage Hong Kong Flavor qian kai cha(?) Backless Strapped Dress Women Fashion”. Thankfully, there was the picture. But, was I in the market for clothes to wear to a nightclub when they are allowed to open? At $8.80 (not marked as an 11.11 sale item), it was cheaper than a McDonald’s Breakfast Deluxe Extra Value Meal.

While Lazada took the more stylish—no less popular—choice of Lee Min Ho, kitted in a pink suit, for their 11.11 communications, Shopee adopted a more grassroots approach, selecting Singaporean actors, Wang Weiliang (王伟良), as himself, and Gurmit Singh as Phua Chu Kang to helm the selling. I’ll keep my feelings about Mr Phua as a salesman to myself for now. Clearly, Shopee is geared for the mass market. And those who must buy at a discount or what is perceived to be cheap. The homepage, however south you scroll, was slapped with discount coupons after discounts coupons after discounts coupons. I finally saw ‘Key Highlights’ after what seemed like the time I would need to pee. Still, there were no product so irresistible I would go weak in the knees (or knuckles—I was scrolling with my fingers) for. By now, my eyes were so fatigued I mistook a Military “Lensatic” Compass for a compact! It was really time to go to bed. In the morning, I’ll try Tekka Online Market; I heard they were doing 11.11 too.

Illustration (top) by Just So

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